Do you like David Cross? Do you think he’s funny? These are the two questions you should ask yourself before you plunk down hardback bucks for I Drink for a Reason, the comedian's first book. If you’re not a true-blue fan, you might find yourself a little disappointed. For those who aren’t members of the very intense David Cross fanbase, he’s the kind of guy you don’t know you know, but when you see him, you say, “Oh, that guy.”
Co-creator (with Bob Odenkirk) of HBO’s sketch-comedy fave Mr. Show, the standup comic also played Tobias Funke (hilariously) on the late, lamented Arrested Development and now has a recurring role on The Colbert Report. As a sketch writer and in other appearances, Cross can be superbly funny and interestingly deliberative, as he was recently on Real Time with Bill Maher. But his humor can also be juvenile and unsubtle (as it was in his film Run Ronnie Run, which just shouldn’t have been made).
Some of that juvenile spirit comes through in the book, which is to be expected, and it contributes to the weakest material. But even essays that don’t include mentions of poo would be much better as live standup bits – and probably have been. Inflection and physicality could salvage rants that seem lifeless on the page. Maybe with gestures and intonation, Cross complaining about “hippies” is funny, but just reading about how annoying they are is puzzling; are hippies even a valid social grouping anymore?
Other pieces read like Andy Rooney’s sad diatribes on 60 Minutes, if Rooney hit the same notes again and again. (Oh, wait … ) Yes, most of us who relate to Cross’ humor are staggered by the stupidity of American bumper stickers, but it’s kind of boring to read about unless something transformative or achingly funny is said. Neither applies here.
Much of Cross’ appeal is that he’s kind of like a precocious adolescent boy who thinks, “Hey, man, that’s fucked up,” about a lot of things, especially Mormonism and religion (I’m a fellow atheist; don’t read this if you’re a churchgoer). But that persona works less well here; and much of the content is uninspired. The essay “I Think Rich People Are Boring” begins this way: “With an apology and all due respect to Louis C.K., who has done a bit using this premise, I think rich people are boring (too). And by that I mean unimaginative.” Seems like the pot calling the kettle black there.
In the piece “A Short Request to Lame Friends,” Cross takes said friends to task for having dull drug stories: “I’m just asking you to be a little more judicious with your stories. At least mix up the range of emotions and excitement a little bit.” Given that one of the “essays” here is an email exchange with Dave Eggers (a dull exchange), I think readers could ask Cross to do the same.
There are a few brilliant moments (“A Free List of Quirks for Aspiring Independent Filmmakers,” “Ask a Rabbi,” “Heaven,” “Things to Do When You Are Bored"), but I Drink for a Reason is kind of underwhelming. If ever there were an argument for paperback, this is it.
Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014